2951-12-06 – Tales From the Inbox: The Unwilling Subcontractor

I have heard several reports that the being known as Jeb has traveled to Maribel all the way from the Silver Strand region. Jeb is a notorious and prolific arms dealer of that region, working mainly with mercenaries and small local governments under the auspices of a firm called Trace & Co. No doubt he intends to ply his trade among the mercenary auxiliaries to Fifth Fleet.

Nobody knows precisely what Jeb is, possibly not even Jeb himself. What is certain is that he is a creature of shrewd mercantile dealings. This story comes in from a mercenary who traveled with Jeb all the way from the Strand – a mercenary who possibly does not realize that her account elevates Jeb’s reputation rather more than her own. Still, at her direct request, I have used her real name in this slightly edited retelling.

“That wasn’t part of our arrangement.” Magda Salmon crossed her arms, though she wasn’t sure this closed-off gesture would translate properly into Jeb’s alien sensibilities. After all, the creature had no two paired limbs to cross, nor could they fold over its torso, because it had no torso, only a tubular body from which appendages stuck out almost at random, and whose forward end was studded with both sensory organs and electronic sensors. “My contract states that my wingmen and I get off your ship here at Maribel.”

“Your contract states no such thing.” Jeb’s smooth, baritone Anglo-Terran voice emerged from somewhere within the head-end of his form while a mechanical limb attached farther aft swung forward to display a holo-projector. “Observe.”

Magda scanned the text for the first time in several weeks. They’d hashed out the terms for protecting Jeb’s ship, the Dylan Lane, back at Cardona’s Landing. Most of it was standard merchantman-escort verbiage which Magda had seen a hundred times. Jeb had been rather quiet on the topic of who he thought might want to kill him, so no specific terms for the handling of different threat vectors had been negotiated; Magda was permitted to engage all hostiles in whatever way suited her. Since there had been no hostiles to engage, the trip had so far been quite dull.

“A clear reading of the contract states that you are responsible for protecting my vessel until the conclusion of my trade mission to this system.” Jeb reached into the hologram with a whip-thin tentacle projecting from below its single platter-sized eye to emphasize a particular section. “As I am not delivering cargo, my trade mission is not complete.”

“You want to keep us on to protect you here?” Magda frowned, then pointed back up the corridor. “Jeb, half the Confederated Navy is parked in this system. If anyone starts shooting at you anywhere near Maribel, they’ll have thirty Magpies to contend with before they even get through your shear-screens.” Magda paused for a moment. “And if you are worried about the Navy, you are quite mad.”

“I make no comment about the likelihood of danger within this system, Miss Salmon.” Jeb drifted backwards a meter and turned slightly to point its single eye directly at her. “I am only observing that if you depart now, you default on this contract, and I need not pay you. This eventuality is entirely acceptable.”

Magda raised one eyebrow. “I’d heard you were the sort to pinch every credit, but this is just low.”

“It would be bad for business to abandon value which I have already paid for.” Jeb didn’t move, or even blink. Come to think of it, Magda didn’t even know if he could blink.

“So you expect us to just cool our heels until you’ve sold everything you think you can sell here?” Magda turned away. “Good damned luck hiring mercenaries the next time after I tell that around.”

“There is little risk of needing your protection here, it is true. But that risk remains above zero.” Jeb’s mechanical arm twitched away and vanished into a recess along its body. “It was your negligence in not amending standard contract language. My intent to remain for some time was not a secret.”

“And my intent to shove off and find another contract was not a secret.” This was a weak argument, and Magda knew it; Jeb was correct in that it was her job to put her interests into the contract. She briefly wondered whether she could solve the problem by dumping the entire magazine of her Dragan heavy pistol into what passed for Jeb’s face. Probably not; the creature had been doing business in the Silver Strand for longer than she had been alive, and that meant he had to have some way to protect himself from the usual ruffians of that region and the negotiation strategies thereof. At least one of Jeb’s mismatched limbs was probably tipped with a weapon, and fast enough to blast her before her gun even finished leaving the holster.

“Indeed.” Jeb’s voice contained no hint of triumph, but it might as well have. “If you report that I am enforcing the contract’s letter in this way, both our reputations will suffer, I think. Uncertain whose interests will be more harmed.”

Magda turned back around. “Are you going somewhere with this? Because I’ll roll those dice in a heartbeat.” She hated the feeling of being at a disadvantage. Perhaps not enough to risk smashing her own career in order to break out of a few weeks of enforced idleness, but it was probably beneficial if Jeb thought otherwise.

“Absent other incentives, you mean.”

Magda scowled and jutted out her chin. Again, this gesture was probably lost on Jeb, but she felt she needed to take every moment all the same. “Sure, silence is for sale. But it’ll cost you.”

Another of Jeb’s limbs – Magda couldn’t quite tell if this one was a biological appendage or a mechanical one – flashed out holding an identity badge on a lanyard. “For the duration of your contract, I will sub-let your squadron’s services to my customers, and we will share the profit. This badge details your official standing as a Trace & Company employee.”

Magda waved away the badge. “That’s not in the terms of the contract.”

“This is an amendment we could both agree to.” Jeb waved the badge back and forth. “I have forwarded the details to your cabin terminal for consideration, Miss Salmon. You need not answer until tomorrow.”

Magda stormed away without another word. Jeb was a curious creature, it was true – if he wanted to subcontract mercenaries, he could have hired any three outfits in the Strand outright before leaving Cardona’s. Unfortunately, the alternative did not look terribly profitable. For the next few weeks at least, it was probably safe to play nice and do Jeb’s bidding on low profit margins.

2951-11-29 – Tales from the Service: The Heist of Seven SRC 

Duncan here. As Nojus seems to have told you all, I was on leave to see my family for the first time in several years. I found their impressions of The Sprawl and the Gap transit quite interesting, but it was good to see them all the same. 

This week, we’ll be continuing with the account Nojus started about the Seventh Special Reconnaissance Company. Though he seems to have omitted this warning, I must stress that Naval Intelligence would not confirm this story’s veracity, and since the submitter is a member of Seven SRC, I find it highly likely that there are elements that are more than a bit embellished. On the other hand, if a bunch of F.V.D.A. commandos really did steal espionage hardware from their own attached intelligence unit, I doubt the intelligence people would openly confirm it even if it were completely accurate. That they scrubbed some details only proves that the sender was a member of Seven SRC at the time the account is placed, or in touch with a member at that time. 

Arjan Marchetti followed Sergeant Levitt out of the barracks compartment and down the hall to the lift. They both knew not to speak outside the barracks, where the ship’s normal security system was recording their every move and every word. As long as the Navy crew of Olivia Maria didn’t have definitive proof of anything before Seven SRC boarded its dropships, all excesses of creative supply sourcing would be forgiven when they returned triumphant. 

In the lift, Levitt slipped Arjan a piece of paper. Real paper was all but unheard of on Navy ships, but it was part of the standard F.V.D.A. field kit. Invariably, instructions passed on paper were those that were not intended for members of any other service to see. 

“Lieutenant Turati really thinks this drop’s going to be a breeze?” Arjan stuffed the paper into his pocket without looking at it. “Intelligence really seems to want us all killed.” 

“Nah.” Levitt clapped Arjan on the back hard enough to almost knock him to his knees. “When you’ve been in the services long enough, you see that Intelligence doesn’t want any of us killed. They just don’t really care much one way or the other. They do think we can complete the mission, at least.” 

“Ah.” Arjan nodded. “That’s... reassuring, Sarge. I guess.” 

“Caring about people living or dying makes a spook’s job harder.” The lift stopped on Deck Five and Levitt stepped out. “That’s why we’ve got to care. See you back at the racks, Marchetti.” 

Arjan saluted until the doors closed between them, then ordered the lift to take him up to the observation gallery on Deck Three. Olivia Maria was a Navy ship, but she had started construction as a passenger liner, and she still possessed many vestigial features of this career that had never been. Seven SRC’s troopers spent much of their off-duty time in the observation gallery, since it was one of the largest pressurized compartments on the whole ship, and because the spacers of the ship’s regular crew seemed to avoid it as an embarrassing reminder of the lowly half-breed status of their vessel. 

Only when he was standing in front of one of the big armor-glass windows did Arjan unfold the little piece of paper the sergeant had slipped him. As long as he was facing outward, no security system could see what was in his hands. Lieutenant Turati had tested this extensively in the first few weeks of the company’s presence aboard Olivia Maria, and strangely the ever-suspicious Navy crew had neglected to correct this problem. They probably figured that if they did, the Seventh would spend even more time scheming inside its surveillance-free barracks and even less time out and about in the rest of the ship where someone could see what they were doing, and it would be even harder to interrupt any creative requisition schemes than it already was. 

Arjan expected to find a cargo-crate identifier or a compartment code scrawled on Levitt’s note, but instead he saw a name: “Marianne Nicolescu.” Below that name, a set of shorthand Frontiersman glyphs appeared, indicating a time and that this person was to be kept occupied by any means until that time. Checking his wristcuff chronometer, Arjan saw that the time was more than twelve hours away. 

“Just how am I supposed to do that?” Arjan crumpled the slip of paper up and crammed it back into his pocket. Nicolescu was the name of the Naval Intelligence captain in charge of all the Intelligence goons on the whole ship. He’d never met her before, of course; he only knew that she existed because her imprint appeared on most of the official briefing material that was sent to his reader to be dutifully ignored before every mission.  

Annoyed that he was to be the distraction rather than the actual thief, Arjan returned to the lift. When the doors opened, he was surprised by an attractive blonde woman in the blue-pinstriped-black uniform of Naval Intelligence striding out. 

“Excuse me.” Arjan caught up with the woman’s hurried pace. “Where can I find Captain Nicolescu?” 

The woman glanced sidelong at Arjan without breaking stride. “Where I’m going. Which SRC are you with, trooper?” 

“The Seventh, ma’am.” Arjan smiled. “Is the Captain very busy?” 

“That information is above a trooper’s pay-rate.” The intelligence officer smirked. “But she’d be a lot less busy if you buccanners in the Seventh weren’t aboard.” 

“Buccaneers?” Arjan gasped in mock offense. “Is that really what you lot think of us?” 

The blonde scoffed. “Oh, please. Turati’s methods get results, but don’t pretend they win any favors outside the F.V.D.A. What do you need to see Nicolescu about?” 

“That information is above a spook’s pay-rate.” Arjan arched one eyebrow and decided to hazard a guess. “But you aren’t just another underling. Without shoulder-insignias, Captain, it’s hard for a lowly trooper to know who to salute to.” 

The woman smiled. “That is by design. If I wanted to be saluted, you would know it.” 

“Lieutenant Turati is like that too.” Arjan shrugged. “When we’re out on operation, he turns off everyone’s rank insignias. Really, Captain, if you’re busy, I can wait an hour or two.” 

“Tell Turati we don’t have Nate comm-spoofers.” Nicolescu massaged her forehead with one hand. “The answer doesn’t change no matter who he sends.” 

“Comm-spoofers?” Arjan was only confused for an instant, but it made his reply sound all the more genuine. No doubt, this was what Levitt wanted stolen. “I don’t know anything about that.” 

“Really.” Nicolescu stopped and turned to face Arjan. “Okay. What’s your name, trooper, and what is it that Turati was hoping you’d steal from me?” 

“Marchetti, ma’am. Arjan Marchetti.” Arjan saluted. “And Turati didn’t tell me to steal anything from you. I was actually rather wondering if you had the forms for a transfer request.” 

“You want to transfer out of the Special Reconnaissance Companies into Intelligence?” Nicolescu frowned. “Why?” 

“During the briefing this morning, ma’am, I got to thinking. I’m too damned smart and too damned pretty to buy the plot in a shootout with Nate troops.” Arjan hoped this was interesting and convincing enough to at least pique Nicolescu’s interest. “Turati picked me up to do a bunch of his dirty work, it’s true, but I signed up for F.V.D.A to get out of the dirty work life.” 

“Well, Mr. Marchetti.” Nicolescu smiled. “I have a posting open right this moment. Chief of Internal Security. It comes with a master-sergeant's pay rate, but it does involve mainly keeping the SRC troopers from stealing the fittings off this ship before every drop.” 

Arjan feigned hesitation. “Well, I don’t know. That sounds awful nice, but the Lieutenant’s methods do work, you said it yourself. If I got in the way and people got killed...” 

“If you got in the way and prevented the theft, Turati and the other SRC commanders would think of something less expensive to get the job done.” Nicolescu put an arm around Arjan’s shoulder. “Come with me.” 

Arjan allowed himself to be led into a wardroom that he had never been in before. To his surprise, most of the officers of Olivia Maria were present, most of them boredly scanning data on their readers.  

The scowling, mustachioed Captain Adams stood and placed his palms on the table as Nicolescu towed Arjan inside and closed the door. 

“Sorry for the delay, Skipper.” Nicolescu led Arjan to a seat and sat down next to him. “Please proceed.” 

“There is only one agenda item for this conference.” Adams fixed a disapproving glare on Arjan. “And it is an item which his presence disrupts.” 

“Oh?” Nicolescu glanced over at Arjan. “How so?” 

“If he overhears our preventative measures, then he will take that to his fellows.” Adams turned his glare on Nicolescu. “I thought you believed in information security.” 

“Let me introduce Chief Marchetti, my provisional head of Internal Security.” Nicolescu gestured toward Arjan. “Formerly of Turati’s Seventh.” 

Adams’s scowl deepened. “How formerly?” 

“I’m still scheduled on this upcoming mission, Captain.” Arjan tried to sound helpful. “But I’m hoping to make it my last drop with the SRC.” 

“Mr. Marchetti has been doing a lot of Turati’s dirty work already. You may recall his name from my report about the missing Puma parts, for example.” 

“I deny that I was involved in any thefts.” Arjan folded his arms. “For the record.” 

Adams sighed. “So we hire a thief to catch the thieves?” 

“Catch them?” Nicolescu laughed. “Skipper, we don’t need to catch them. We just need to... Channel their energy a bit more constructively. Chief, how would you begin?” 

Arjan smiled nervously and looked around, trying to look intimidated by all those Navy rank insignias. In reality, he thought them all pompous fools, but if they caught a whiff of that in his bearing, he was sunk. “Well, ah. This drop, you can bet the Seventh isn’t going to like relying on the flyboys to take out the triple-A around that landing pad. We-ah, they, will want to take that into their own hands.” 

“They don’t trust us to get them there?” The squadron commander slapped the table with one palm. “Skipper, if they take my Pumas apart one more time-” 

“Nicolescu, you and your Chief can go down to the hangar and keep those brigands from getting to anything.” Adams fixed a glare on Arjan. “And Marchetti, do be aware of exactly how provisional your new title is.” 

“Y-yes, Skipper.” Arjan stood and saluted. “I know exactly where to start.” This, at least was true; Arjan had perhaps been more involved in the liberation of the nose cannons of three Puma interceptors than he would admit on the record, and could credibly secure the hangar against what he’d done that time. Stretching that into twelve hours would be the main problem. 

2951-11-22 – Tales from the Service: The Brigands of Seven SRC 

“This is the target.” The officer in charge of the briefing whisked a metal pointer through the holographic terrain map for everyone to see. A red orb blinked sullenly on one side of the rugged mountain at the center of the display. “There are several entrances to the complex, but the VTOL landing pads here are going to be the least well defended. That’s where you’ll be dropped.” 

 Arjan Marchetti knew the score; ground defenses would be light at the landing pads because stiff anti-air defenses would theoretically prevent hostile troops from landing. Most likely, every shoulder of the mountain hid a nest of air-search sensors, guided missile batteries, and rapid-fire laser emplacements, all of which would shred any troop-transport long before it landed on the VTOL pads. 

The briefing was leaving that out because none of the men in the room could do anything about the anti-air, of course. The thirty-six men and four women of the Frontier Volunteer Defense Army’s Seventh Special Reconnaissance Company needed to rely on someone else to solve those problems. 

As the officer continued to explain what was known about the layout of the underground complex and the best routes to the command center, Arjan glanced over at Lieutenant Turati, sitting a few seats to his left. Turati was scowling, but that was nothing to be concerned about. According to bunkroom legend, the Seven SRC commander had fought his way off Adimari Valis three months after the planet had fallen to the Incarnation after having been marooned there by a wrecked dropship during the final battle. How he’d accomplished this escape, nobody knew for sure, but everyone knew that nothing since had been sufficiently dangerous to engage his interest. As long as Turati was scowling, the mission was nothing to be worried about. 

“Any questions?” The briefing officer set his pointer down and folded his hands behind his back.  

There were no questions, as usual. Since probably only half of Seven SRC had paid attention to the whole briefing, this probably dismayed the man tasked to give it, but they all knew not to take Naval Intelligence too seriously. Seven SRC had seen too many intelligence fiascos to believe that knowing what the spooks had come up with would be of any value in the field.  

Turati stood up first, gave perfunctory thanks for the intelligence update, then led the way out into the corridor. Seven SRC rose to follow him with barely a word.  

The forty members of the unit said little until they were back in the barracks compartment assigned to them aboard Olivia Maria. Few FVDA troops ever saw the inside of a Marine troopship, but the men of the Special Reserve were among the exceptions. The brass needed them for operations all along the Frontier, and so they were moved by the fast transports rather than by the FVDA’s usual bulk troopships. 

“All right, Lieutenant.” Sergeant Levitt, the unit’s second in command, raised his rough baritone as soon as the compartment had closed behind the last SRC trooper. “This seems like a damned death sentence. But you aren’t concerned, are you?” Levitt had been retired from the Confederated Marines only four months when the war had started, and had been wounded on Margaux before being transferred to the SRC program. 

“Three or four killed. Five wounded.” Lieutenant Turati shrugged. “That’s the worst case.” 

Arjan shook his head. “How do you figure that one, Sir?” He didn’t like the sound of ten percent dead in the unit, but it certainly wasn’t worse than other assignments Seven SRC had been given lately. 

Turati smiled, his cold blue eyes sweeping the room. “Intelligence is a bunch of idiots. We’re not going in the way they told us to. That’s damned suicide. We’d never reach the platform. We’ll set down in the foothills while the Navy flyboys are tangling with the triple-A and walk the rest of the way to the front door, and grab the base commander the next time he comes out. Then we just have to hide until someone comes to pick us up.” 

“That’ll take days, won’t it?” Levitt frowned. “There’s no way the Brass is going to be that patient.” 

“It’s Intelligence that wants this done wrong.” Turati sat down on a bunk at random. “But a few days won’t make any difference to the Brass. Most of this operation is going to be damned dull.” 

Arjan nodded. "Sounds like we’re going to spend a few days collecting wilderness kit.” 

“That’s right.” Turati held out his hands. “No doubt there’s plenty aboard this ship, but none of it is assigned to us. We have seven days to fix that.” 

Levitt grinned. “The usual fix, Sir?” 

“The usual fix.” Turati waved his hand. “The Navy can send us the bill later.” 

A wave of chuckles swept through the compartment. Within minutes, most of the company had congealed into groups of three or four, talking in low tones around one member’s bunk. 

Arjan felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see that it belonged to Sergeant Levitt. “Sarge?” 

“You’re with me on this one, Marchetti.” Levitt winked. “Lieutenant wants something special for this mission, and with your help I’m going to get it.” 

Arjan winced. “Yessir.” Though he’d lied creatively to get into the FVDA in the first place, he was quite free with his SRC fellows about his few years as a cartel enforcer. No doubt, this was what Levitt was referring to. 

“Ah, don’t worry.”  Levitt clapped Arjan on the back. “We won’t hurt anyone, and we’re only stealing from people who had it coming. The spooks, in this case.” 

“Oh.” Arjan brightened. “For a moment you had me worried. What’s the plan?” 

Nojus here. This is Duncan’s last week of leave. In fact, he’s due back here in three days as of the posting of this feed item. I was able to sit down for dinner with the Chaudhri family this week. They are very private people who would not want anything we discussed to appear in this space, but it was a nice evening all around. 

The FVDA’s Special Reconnaissance Companies program is perhaps the most tight-lipped portion of the normally fairly media-welcoming FVDA service, and it is a shame that we haven’t had an opportunity to mention them here before. When a story about their activities does reach us, Naval Intelligence invariably cuts it to pieces, citing operational security. If you ask me, it’s just as likely that the Intelligence boys have an unwritten rule not to permit good press for the SRC, as the SRC seem to despise Intelligence more even than they do the enemy. 

This particular account refers to preparation for an operation that was completed in mid-2950. Intelligence still scrubbed all specific details about the operation except for the name of their troopship before permitting me to bring the story to this feed. 

2951-10-25 – Tales from the Service: The Quickley Job

“You must be joking.” Avin Matveev folded his arms and leaned against the blast-scored wall of what had probably been built as a high-rise residence tower for the first wave of architects and technicians who would turn Quickley into a first-class colony. Now, it was the frowning massif looming over a forlorn ruin made all the more desolate by the fact that it had never been properly built before it was destroyed.

“Afraid not, Boss.” Leo Goranov, Avin’s chief architect, gestured down the arrow-straight street leading back the way they’d come. “Admiral Abarca’s rep says they have two brigades of fortress troops landing in thirty hours.”

“What in all hells am I supposed to do with thirty hours?” Avin threw his hands up. “We haven’t even been groundside for a whole shift! Has he seen what the grunts did to this place? We’re doing everything almost from scratch!”

Fortunately, Leo had worked with Avin long enough to know that these were rhetorical questions. He winced and pretended to make a note on his data slate, then soldiered on after a politely long silence. “The block tower will hold almost that many, if they don’t mind having room-mates and hot-bunking.”

Avin looked up at the twelve-story ferrocrete edifice. Most of its windows were dark, hollow sockets, and chunks of material had been blown out of its sides by wayward artillery fire. He’d already verified that its foundation was solid, but he’d expected that his crew had more than a week in which to complete their work. Leo was probably right, but even with most of the team working round the clock, there was no way they’d have that building ready. A new coat of paint wouldn’t even be dry in that time.

Avin dropped his shoulders. This was the part of being a military contractor that he’d never grown to like, no matter how big the payday. “Herb’s already on his way with the crane crawlers?”

“Soon as they’re unloaded.”

“Get back over and pull Lydia off the revetments. Bring her team this way as soon as you can.” Avin pointed toward the edge of the incomplete city, where one of his teams had already been bundled off to work on fortifications.

Leo nodded. “I’ll call ahead. The Marines won’t like losing their pet diggers.”

“The Marines don’t fill our bank account, Leo.” Avin shooed his associate away. “Go on, I’ve got to get the plan markers laid before Herb gets here.”

Leo scurried off, leaving Avin standing on the cracked walkway, staring up at the structure that would, in not much more than a standard day, be housing Confederated troops. They’d never have the whole inside ready by then, of course; running plumbing to sanitary stations on every floor alone would take most of the time he’d been given. It was time to do some of the famous Matveev improvising that his father and grandfather had built the company on. It didn’t have to be pretty; it just had to keep more than three thousand souls warm, dry, and mostly clean.

Walking across the street to the corner of a low building skeleton which had probably never had a complete roof, Avin reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of planning markers. Building a schematic in his head as he went, he set the markers down every ten meters or so as he circumnavigated the huge tower. The inside didn’t really need to house so many thousands of bunks; it just needed to have water, sanitary facilities, and somewhere to put the chow line. The fact that it was an ugly, over-engineered block of ferrocrete would also come in handy.

Just as Avin returned to his start point, he heard the rumble of polymer-coated treads on cracked pavement. Looking up, he saw the first crane crawler nose around a corner, a crimson Matveev Logistics insignia freshly painted on the front of the cab. Behind the telescoping crane mount, a flat bed held a towering pile of pre-fabricated metal beams.

Avin waved the vehicle over and hopped up onto its side while it was still moving. Inside the cab, behind a strung-out looking driver, Herb Armando was standing on the vibrating deck, scowling out at the ruined streets.

“This is impossible, Boss.” Herb handed Avin a disposable cup of coffee. “Did you hear we only have-”

“I heard.” Avin pointed to the tower. “We’re going to use that.”

“The whole crew working round the clock couldn’t make that ready in time.” Herb shook his head. “Prefab’s going to be faster, but still not fast enough.”

“Yeah.” Avin tapped his wristcuff to send Herb the locations of the planning markers. “Which is why we’re going to use that.”

Herb frowned. “I don’t get it, boss.”

“Start assembling support struts.” Avin looked out over the street, imagining a net of metal girders blossoming upward from the wreckage and converging on the top of the tower. Once the girders were secure, his imagination started dividing the intervening space with crossbeams, then flooring. Synth-canvas became walls, and a double layer covered the whole thing like a monstrous tent.

Herb, of course, couldn’t see Avin’s designs. He sighed and pointed to Herb’s wristcuff. “I need support beams to go from those points, up to the top.”

Herb glanced at the screen, then out at the building. “What good’s that?”

“Just do it, Herb.” Avin popped the top off the coffee, drained it in two gulps, then handed it back. “We don’t have time for the big picture presentation this time.”

Herb looked at Avin strangely, then smiled. “That almost sounded like your father, Boss.”

“Yeah, well.” Avin opened the door and started back out. He would need to head into the tower to set markers to give the other teams their marching orders before they arrived. “If we pull this off, even that grouch will be impressed.”

Though the fighting has been over on Quickley for some time, Nojus is still on that world and still talking to the combat troops and support personnel who were part of its capture.

Quickley is an interesting case; this was no hit and run raid. Seventh Fleet is apparently fortifying the world to resist attack long enough that the main fleet can depart from Sagittarius Gate to relieve it.

Among those who arrived on that world within hours of its capture was Avin Matveev, the chief executive of Matveev Logistics, a mid-sized civilian contracting company that has been building ground-side bases and facilities for the Confederated Navy for nearly seventy years. Nojus apparently knows Mr. Matveev from way back, and seems to have had little difficulty extracting this particular story of engineering exploits from him.

It should be noted that though the account included pictures of the odd circus-tent hab structure Mateev built to house the incoming troops, the strange building has already been largely disassembled. It was only needed for a few weeks, until Mateev Logistics could build more permanent barracks facilities.